We have a capacity to think and imagine. This is a gift of God. We can think and imagine stories, pipe organs, woolen tapestries, and custom bicycles and engines that run on straight vegetable oil. We can try to imagine what and how a person other than yourself feels or sees the world. We can image and imagine arrangements for life that better meet the needs of those who inhabit a place or share in the life of a community. We can imagine and describe patterns in the creation and how it lives and operates. We can image and imagine God. This capacity to imagine potentially draws us nearer to the truth of our things, our being and the God who is, who will be, who God will be.
But we also get stuck with false thoughts and images that don’t get us where we need to go, or even let us be with God where we are. The Pharisees and Herodians are stuck about whether paying roman taxes was faithful or not. They don’t agree, but they can make unity by attacking a third someone-Jesus! Jesus doesn’t let them hide from the fact of the coins in their pockets, the blatant idolatry of the coins, and that they must pay the tax. Afterall, these factions debate the question, while the galilee fisherman seemed to have no choice but to overfish the lake in order get cash money to pay roman taxes. And it was to people caught in such a lack of options that Jesus came with mercy. He slips this trap, and perhaps won a few by breaking their stuck imaginations. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is Gods.
Last week we heard the Israelites convince Aaron to make alternative gods for them. Maybe they were impatient with Moses, with all the people in their vast company whose needs and dreams and cries and varied gaits. Get us where we are going, never mind God’s purpose in moving us as an entire body. Maybe they wanted gods that suited their own narrow and more self-interested purposes. And we do this in various ways in our own lives.
Moses returns to the scene, smashes the tablets upon which the finger of a merciful God had written guidance for life in rage. Today we pick up the story as Moses returns to the mountain to ask God’s forgiveness on behalf of the people. He turns, and approaching the God he imagines must be very angry, Moses must let go of his own anger. I learned this week a great little practice called ‘willing hands.’ It’s supposed to help you relinquish anger and open your heart. Next time your friend’s anger comes knocking, in order to listen to what anger is saying, we could all try this and see what is possible.
Moses let’s go of his anger, and asks God to forgive the people, to give them another copy of the law. But before that Moses asks to see God’s face. God says no you can’t see my face, no mortal can see my face and live. My being, all my energies are just too much for you. But you will see my goodness, you will see my mercy. I will hide you in a secure place, in the cleft of the rock, and cover you with my name, shield you with my open palm.
Such is the beautiful image of God we receive in Exodus, in the Hebrew scriptures of the Christian Old Testament. I hear quite often from us good progressive protestants what is essentially an old anti-Jewish trope. “The New Testament God is a god of light and love, but the Old Testament god is wrathful and violent.” The God of mercy, of restraint, the God is good and true, whose being calls forth within you as goodness and mercy and true being, well, here God is in the image of an open palm protecting Moses.
What does it invite you to let go of, by way of anger or resentment? What love for others, what disappointment or fear you feel for them does it let you know? What attitude or values or way of behaving or trying to meet your needs might this open hand, this crescent moon, call you to unlearn, relearn?
Maybe when you find yourself stuck in a conversation with a spouse, how to spend some money, or with someone who is supposedly at your political polar opposite, you might turn up your palms, and see what changes. You might discover that where the imaginations of your hearts are stuck, there are more options than you could so far imagine. And if you are not in a hurry to get somewhere, or in a hurry to tell someone else where they can go, you might turn to God, learn God where wants you to go, or at least that God is where you are.